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Saturday, February 5, 2011


I believe that the best way to help people is to help them help themselves. I realize that this sort of aid is not appropriate for every situation. Sometimes charity is the best option if, for example, fast relief is needed. But we should identify the situations where it may be more beneficial to empower people by encouraging them to play an active role in turning their lives around, rather than just receiving charity. This will create a sustainable situation in which people feel responsible for and are able to make a difference in their own lives. They will thus be motivated to work hard, and will inspire others in similar situations to work hard too. We can also create more effective strategies for helping people by gathering their input.

“Many Haitians say that part of the problems stem from the fact that projects are designed and implemented with little input from Haitian government officials or Haitians who know what's going on on the ground. For instance, six weeks before the UN donors' conference a group of more than 1,700 Haitian community organizers fanned across the country asking villagers and city dwellers what their hopes and aspirations for the development of their country. Most people said that they had a desire for self-determination and direct participation in the rebuilding effort after the earthquake” (Article: Where did all the Haiti relief money go?)

I’d like to highlight one particular case that illustrates how much more effective and inspiring it is when someone from the target community plays a role in turning their lives, and the lives of others in their community, around. I encourage everyone to watch this inspiring video. This is the story of William Kamkwamba. At age 14, William had never been away from his home in Malawi. He had never used the internet, or even used a computer before. He had never seen an airplane. He had been forced to drop out of school because his parents couldn’t afford tuition so he took up reading at a local library. Among his readings, he found a description of how to build windmills. Using some bicycle parts and materials lying around a scrapyard nearby, William built a windmill to power some electrical appliances in his home. Since then, William has continued building things around his village and has become well-known for his achievements. William has inspired many Africans, as well as others around the world. Many Malawians are even building windmills and digging wells thanks to William’s inspiration.

A documentary on William’s story is being made.

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